This was actually Vahn’s first time visiting the workshop since his return from the expedition and he was surprised that several things had changed since his last visit. The Annex now connected into the Manor itself and continued further to make room for a large storage warehouse, as both Hephaestus and Tsubaki needed space for their materials, as well as a completely new forge that was on the other side of the wall from Vahn’s. Hephaestus actually drew up designs for all kinds of mechanisms and was quite fond of things like trap doors so the two workshops were connected by a secret passageway. Since she kept her ‘Eternal Flame’ at the Hearth Manor now, Hephaestus needed to ensure it was protected for when she was away, even from the other residents of the Manor.
The ‘Eternal Flame’ was inextricably linked to Hephaestus in the mortal world and, if it was somehow destroyed by someone, it would also result in her own expulsion from the mortal world until she recovered. Even if she had absolute trust in the residents of the Manor, Hephaestus was still a goddess that had lived a very long life and she wasn’t the type to take chances with her own life. The surrounding walls had so many formations protecting her forge that even Vahn wasn’t confident in being able to break into it without using the access key. Fortunately, his own ‘eternal flame’ allowed him to bypass the protection and he easily found the mechanism to trigger the false wall to open with his [Eyes of Truth].
Since Vahn and Tsubaki were the only possible people that could enter, with the later only having access with Hephaestus’ permission, she wasn’t surprised by Vahn’s arrival and simply wiped the sweat from her brow with a loving smile on her face. Vahn found that Hephaestus grew more beautiful every time he saw her and he quickly stepped forward and embraced her loosely before sealing her smiling lips with a kiss. It was rare that they were alone like this and Vahn felt his own heart itching after realizing they probably wouldn’t be disturbed at all within her forge. Even the Eternal Flame in her forge, alongside the one in his chest, was dancing about happily as the atmosphere slowly developed.
Hephaestus eventually closed her teeth slightly to force Vahn’s tongue to retreat as she gave him an enamored look and said, “I’m in the middle of work right now…give me a few minutes to finish up.” Vahn felt his heart race and turned his attention to what Hephaestus had been working on before his ‘interruption’ and saw a dark-green piece of metal that was being heated by the Eternal Flame. Vahn recognized the material as a composite between Adamantine and Novasteel and it was being forged into the head of a battle-ax. Vahn knew it would take more than a ‘few minutes’ to finish and Hephaestus would likely let it cool down before reheating it in a painstaking process later.
Though he stopped ‘distracting’ her, Vahn didn’t stand to the side and wait and instead said, “I’d like to help, Hephaestus. If we work together, it will get done faster and we can talk at the same time…” Hephaestus smiled but Vahn could see a complex look in her eyes as she struggled, likely with how she should refuse him. With the focus she placed on her work, forever in the pursuit of a higher standard of quality, Hephaestus couldn’t easily allow someone’s ‘assistance’ with her work since, if it actually turned out slightly worse, she would actually reforge the entire thing because of her own compulsion.
Vahn understood her concerns somewhat and gently stroked her back as he softly muttered, “Don’t worry, I’ll just assist you with some of the basic parts and leave all the actual metalworking to you…” If it was just preparing materials, treating them, and forming ingots, Vahn had a lot of confidence and could even purchase ‘perfect’ versions of them through the shop if she was that concerned about it. Unable to refuse Vahn easily, Hephaestus eventually released a hot sigh and said, “Okay, Vahn…since you are also connected with the Eternal Flame, I believe in you…”
For the first time in history, Hephaestus allowed someone to actually assist with her work and Vahn did his best not to disappoint her. He actually cut open his palm before they started and fed some of his blood to the Eternal Flame, which it ‘greedily’ devoured before dancing around in a highly excited manner. Hephaestus watched this with interest and then began issuing Vahn orders for the tasks he needed to complete, each unable effect the quality of the final product if she did her best. She wasn’t truly surprised by his capabilities, but Hephaestus found it very ‘interesting’ to see how capable Vahn had become when it felt like just a ‘blink’ ago he had just picked up a hammer for the first time. Seeing that he was still using the hammer ‘they’ forged together, Hephaestus felt more confident in the final product and did her best to shape the axhead properly.
Though he had seen her work a bit, this was Vahn’s first time watching Hephaestus actually ‘forge’ an item seriously and it made him realize truly how lackluster his own skills were. The coordination between her and the Eternal Flame was something he couldn’t hope to replicate without an incredible amount of effort. It was actually able to make ‘tendrils’ of flame under Hephaestus’ guidance as they worked in concert to create different patterns within the structure of the metal before she struck it with her hammer. Vahn could see that each strike actually infused energy into the metal in very specific shapes and patterns that perfectly reinforced the structure she had created with her earlier efforts. It was a level of control that made Vahn swallow dryly because of how ‘ridiculous’ it was. Any confidence he had in forging was completely eradicated by Hephaestus’ display and he truly realized that he had barely taken just a few steps on a functionally endless path on the road to being a Master Smith…
Vahn had no way of knowing her actual skill level, but if he were able to analyze it through the path he would see that Hephaestus didn’t actually have the [Master Smith] ability at all, but there was an Innate attached to her that was simply called [Hephaestus:(-)]. Her true skill was that of a [Godsmith], which was a level unattainable without being an actual god, but it was invalidated by her existence. This is what made her skill incomparable to other forging gods, even when she was restricted by the laws of the record when she was in the mortal world. Without the use of her Arcanum and Divine Power, Hephaestus was still the greatest blacksmith in the entire world and her skills could even match the performance of some gods there were still in the Heavens. The only thing that truly prevented her from creating even greater masterpieces were the restrictions of the materials she had to work with. Unlike those that were found in heaven, the materials in the mortal world had all kinds of impurities and even the air around her was working against her as a result of the somewhat ‘chaotic’ flow of elemental energy naturally present in the world.
Vahn had originally thought they would have an opportunity to talk, but Hephaestus’ work ethic made him feel a little ashamed of himself. From the moment she accepted his help, Hephaestus became completely focused on her work and only looked over periodically to cast her glowing eyes at the materials he was working with. When she was putting in an effort, both of Hephaestus’ eyes glowed with a divine light similar to Anubis, except for the fact they were a fiery red. Instead of distracting her, Vahn felt compelled to put all of his efforts into his own work so that he didn’t disappoint her. As a result, they finished the large battleax, something that Vahn felt would have taken him several days, after around two hours and forty minutes…
Hephaestus was about to wipe away her sweat again, but Vahn had already pulled out a towel and began dabbing it off of her. A smile bloomed on her face as she remarked, “You’ve improved a great deal, Vahn…I’m very impressed.” Vahn simply shook his head in response and said, “I never realized just how far apart our skill level actually was…it was a very eye-opening experience. Thank you for letting me help you, Hephaestus…” Though his words sounded somewhat self-deprecating, Hephaestus could see a ‘fire’ in Vahn’s eyes, which he could feel himself as he aspired to increase the quality of his own work in the future. Even Tsubaki was more skilled than he was, albeit somewhat less innovative and experimental, and Hephaestus was several orders of magnitude more skilled than both of them. If Vahnw as like a small pool, Tsubaki was like a small pond, whereas Hephaestus was like the ocean itself…
As she enjoyed Vahn’s care and concern, as he pampered her quite a bit as a result of her pregnancy, Hephaestus asked in a low and contended voice, “So, why did you originally come here, Vahn? I can tell you wanted to see me, but I know there had to be another reason behind your actions…” A wry smile appeared on Vahn’s face as he said, “I wanted to talk to you about potentially making weapons for Tina and Shizune. I’ll be taking them into the Dungeon in a few weeks and I wanted them to have something that could grow alongside them instead of something that made them arbitrarily stronger than normal.” Hearing Vahn’s words, Hephaestus titled her head to the side in thought before nodding her head and saying, “It may be a bit difficult, but I think I could manage if Hestia assists me. Since it wouldn’t be good for their development to be overly reliant on a weapon, I think making them a weapon that can grow is a good idea. It won’t be easy though, even for me…we also need to consider the materials properly so there aren’t any issues in the future.”
Now that Hephaestus had the idea in her mind, thought were racing through her brain as several different designs began to take shape. Unable to resist her own compulsions, she moved into the adjacent room where there was a drawing table and immediately set about drawing up the blueprints necessary. Vahn had followed behind her in interests as she began peppering him with questions about the girls’ combat styles, their height, weight, projected growth, the length of their arms, the dexterity of their fingers, and even how their bodies moved based on habits. Though he was a little caught off guard, Vahn was able to answer the majority of the questions relatively easily by relying on his memory and understanding of the girls’ bodies.
Though it might not have been completely accurate, Vahn could even somewhat project Tina’s growth by taking into consideration the structure of Milan’s body and the images he had seen of her father. As for Shizune, he knew what she looked like as an adult and, even if there were subtle changes as a result of her living conditions and other factors, there wouldn’t be drastic differences in her basic appearance. He had also seen Tina train several times, while watching Shizune’s progress earlier, so he knew their various ‘faults’ and the habits they relied on during combat. As a result, Hephaestus ended up drawing up a diagram of a 20cm long dagger for Shizune and a 50cm long shortsword for Tina, if measured just by their blades.
There were still changes that would need to be made for the final designs, but Hephaestus was satisfied with what she had drawn up and eventually set down the quill before she teasingly said, “Your knowledge about those two girls is rather…intimate?” Vahn laughed in response without minding the matter too much as he said, “My memory is nearly perfect and I learned from both you and Tsubaki about how to properly measure things with my eyes and by relying on my perception. Before I came here, I had watched the girls training so their images are still fresh in my mind. Besides, I can confidently say I know at least one gorgeous goddess of the forge infinitely more intimate than almost any other girl…”
As Vahn spoke, he traced his index finger across Hephaestus’ exposed collarbone which made her release a hot sigh under the influence of his [Hands of Nirvana]. Ever since their wedding night, Vahn felt like there wasn’t a single thing about Hephaestus’ body that he didn’t know completely. Unfortunately, their presence would be noted if they were absent during dinner and there wasn’t really enough time to ‘prove’ it to her in any meaningful way. Instead, Vahn set out plush sofa for them and said, “We don’t have much time, but we can still cuddle a bit before dinner…I want to listen to the baby.” Hephaestus had an enamored and anticipatory look on her face at first, but it immediately softened when she heard Vahn’s words. Though she could easily manage the feat herself, she muttered, “Help me up…I don’t want to hurt the baby~.”
Vahn obediently supported Hephaestus’ body over to the sofa before gingerly laying her against the soft cushions. If he could, he would pamper her endlessly up until the moment of the delivery but life was never so convenient so he just enjoyed this small moment to the fullest. Being able to rest his head against her abdomen as she stroked his hair made Vahn feel an incredible amount of comfort and he even had the urge to cry as a result of the emotions that had started to rise up inside of him. As faint as they might be, Vahn could feel the hearts of his two daughters beating within Hephaestus’ womb and it made him feel strangely small and frail, almost like he was a part of them.
Seeing Vahn’s reaction actually made Hephaestus tear up slightly and she felt truly grateful for everything that had happened over the last six months. Though she often prayed for a reprieve, Hephaestus harbored no actual hope that she would ever be free of the loneliness that had plagued her. Even if she found a temporary love, it would be just that, temporary, almost like a momentary blip in her eternity. Through Vahn, she found a companion that she could walk with for a long time, potentially even stretching into eternity itself. He not only healed her scar, but he also healed the wounds of her heart and even blessed her with a child, the ultimate amalgamation of the love they shared. Their children even had the potential of becoming goddesses themselves, except she was certain Vahn would find a way to manage the influence Divinity had over their minds and souls. He was truly an amazing little boy and Hephaestus couldn’t even imagine a life where she had never met Vahn…just thinking about it made her feel a little lonely.
Unable to prevent the words from leaving her lips, Hephaestus muttered, “I love you so much…” as she gently stroked Vahn’s head. He opened his watery eyes to match her own as an almost ‘pained’ smile appeared on his face and he said, “Hephaestus…thank you…I love you so much…so much…” With Hephaestus’ words dealing critical damage to his heart, Vahn couldn’t stop himself from crying tears filled with a plethora of powerful emotions that were far more overwhelming than his fragile heart could take. He felt so much love and gratitude for this beautiful woman before him and he couldn’t find any way to express it because there was no way he could ever truly repay her for everything she had given him. Without her unwavering trust and support, Vahn imagined he wouldn’t be nearly as happy as currently was. Though he might have found love, even started a family of his own, Vahn couldn’t imagine it being nearly as fulfilling as everything he had now. Thus, unable to find any way to truly express what he felt, Vahn opened himself up to the goddess that had left a permanant impression on his heart and cried…